Overcoming the Spiritual Root of Selfishness
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Overcoming the Spiritual Root of Selfishness

Selfishness. It’s a word we don’t like to hear used to describe us, yet if we’re honest, it’s a trap we all struggle with. As Christians, we know we’re called to follow Jesus’ example of selfless love and service, but putting that into practice can feel next to impossible when our natural instincts are clouded by pride and self-interest.

In this post, I want to take an honest look at the deeper spiritual roots feeding selfish attitudes and habits, and what our part is in responding to God’s offer of freedom. My prayer is that through seeking greater understanding, we’d grow in the grace and compassion needed to overcome selfishness’s drain on our souls.

Introduction: The Seductive Whisper of Self

From early on, you’ve probably noticed certain voices in your head constantly wanting to steer decisions in your favor, to chase renown and legacy for your name, to claim rights and resources for yourself. Let’s call that persuasive voice “Self.”

Self seems to operates by a simple formula: Me first. My comfort. My control. My glory.

If left unchecked, Self will hijack every choice to serve its own interests over others’ needs or God’s desires. Over time, that me-first mindset leads to attitudes and habits that erode our capacity to love.

Maybe you’ve noticed Self rationalizing impatience with people who are “too needy.” Self takes offense when others don’t properly recognize your contributions. Self tallies every sacrifice made and stirs up resentment when there’s “lack of appreciation.”

Self also manifests in subtle ways: being quick to speak and slow to listen in conversations. Sitting arms-folded when something is asked of you. Going through the motions of service begrudgingly. Choosing community involvement based on what’s personally enjoyable rather than where need is greatest.

Behind all these symptoms lies a spiritual root: Self wants to be god. It doesn’t want to bow. It doesn’t want constraints. It wants control and glory for numbing the ache of some unmet need within. Until we recognize Self for what it is – a false god parasitically feeding on our soul – its grasping and striving will continue to metastasize.

So what does real freedom from its grip look like? And what is our role in humbly submitting Self’s demands to the lordship of Christ? Those are questions we’ll explore together in this post.

Key Takeaways:

  • Selfishness is rooted in pride elevating our wants and perspective above others.
  • It manifests in self-protective postures where we withhold love and generosity.
  • True freedom starts with confessing our selfish condition before God.
  • We must daily relinquish control to Jesus, taking up our cross by serving others.
  • Choosing humility and obedience in small moments weakens selfishness’s power.
  • Our journey is one of grace as we learn to draw strength from Christ.

The Root of Selfishness: Pride

To start getting free, we need to recognize selfishness is not primarily a behavioral problem – it’s a heart condition stemming from pride.

The apostle Paul warns: “In the last days people will be lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2). The essence of sin is self-exaltation – wanting to be like God by making our will and desires supreme. From the garden of Eden onward, this appetite for control has enslaved humanity.

We may suppress obvious expressions of pride to look cooperative and caring. But situations that disrupt our plans or challenge our preferences reveal where Self still lurks:

  • When inconvenienced, Self gets irritated and insists on things being made right.
  • When embarrassed, Self turns defensive and shifts blame to others.
  • When unappreciated, Self tallies all the sacrifices made and withholds generosity.
  • When threatened, Self lashes out or sinks into despair.

At the root of these reactions is an expectation that our ease, reputation, needs, and desires should be preserved at all costs. We allow Self’s fearful inner narratives – rather than trust in God’s loving purpose – to shape our reactions.

The solution begins by humbly acknowledging, “Apart from Christ, this is my default. My opinions and perspective are warped by pride. I need help to choose rightly.” This admission of helplessness opens the heart to receive God’s grace and wisdom.

Next, we can invite the Spirit to reorient our focus – away from preserving self, toward serving others in Jesus’ name. As Paul exhorted: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Examining Selfish Attitudes

Beyond specific behaviors, we need to grow more cognizant of selfish attitudes that restrict our capacity to love. Here are some telling indicators that pride may be unchecked in a particular area:

1. A scarcity mindset

With this outlook, we view God’s resources and blessings as limited. We resent others receiving while neglecting to see our own ample provision.

The antidote: Cultivate gratitude and generosity. All good gifts come from God’s abundant grace. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Rejoice when others are blessed rather than assuming it limits what you’ll receive.

2. People-pleasing and performance

Do you crave affirmation and praise from others? Do you base your worth on achievement and accolades? This makes relationships and ministry about propping up self rather than freely expressing Christ’s love.

The antidote: Find your identity in Christ alone. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Serve from the security of being God’s beloved child.

3. Entitlement

Do you feel owed special treatment or exemption from inconvenience? Do you resent when recognition, resources, or power are distributed unequally? Entitlement springs from pride’s demand for preferential status.

The antidote: Embrace humility and equanimity. “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Be quick to defer to others’ needs without complaint. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

4. Superiority and Condescension

Do you base self-worth on being right, successful, put-together, or morally superior? Catch yourself making condescending remarks, thinking: “If only they were wiser and more competent like me.” Pride loves looking down on others’ flaws.

The antidote: Clothe yourself in compassion. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). Remember Jesus humbly washed even Judas’ feet. See others as precious in God’s sight. Protect the dignity of those struggling.

5. Cynicism and Ingratitude

Does your first impulse tend to be complaining about what’s inconvenient, deficient, or disappointing? Do you magnify inconveniences into personal offenses? Ungrateful cynicism flows from feeling entitled to abundant comfort.

The antidote: Put on thankful praise. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Before grumbling, express gratitude for blessings others may overlook. assign positive motives to those who offend you.

6. Impatience and Irritability

Do you find your fuse gets shorter when things aren’t going smoothly or others aren’t efficient enough? Do you turn stern, curt, or passive aggressive when plans get disrupted? Lurking pride says my time and priorities trump yours.

The antidote: Extend grace to those struggling. “Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Create margin so delays don’t derail your calm. Check exasperation; show understanding. Listen more than lecture.

7. Holding Grudges

It’s easy to stew over being wronged and withhold forgiveness from those who hurt us. But clinging to bitterness imprisons us, while freeing others liberates our soul. Harboring grudges is rooted in prideful judgment.

The antidote: Forgive as you’ve been forgiven. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). You have been freely pardoned of infinite offences against God. Extend that same grace to others.

Catching and renouncing these attitudes is vital. But what next steps lead from conviction toward lasting change?

The Process of Repentance and Renewal

Gaining freedom from selfishness begins by humbly admitting our condition and need for grace. King David modeled this after his adultery and murder: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…. Purge me and I shall be clean” (Psalm 51:3, 7).

This humility creates space for the Spirit to renew our minds. As we fix our focus on Jesus, our notions of power and greatness get redefined. The real path to fulfilment runs through sacrificial service, not self-exaltation.

From this transformed outlook, acts of selfless giving become our delight rather than duty. By taking small steps of obedience in line with Jesus’ character, we begin dismantling selfish habits. As Dallas Willard wrote, “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.” Here are some key action steps:

1. Confess pride specifically. Vaguely admitting “I struggle with sin” can ignore the real strongholds in our heart. Name the actual attitudes feeding selfishness: the need to control, irritation at inconvenience, resentment of unrecognized efforts, etc. Bring these out of hiding into God’s light.

2. Relinquish imagined rights. Much selfish conflict arises when we feel entitled to things we simply desire: a reputation, a role, recognition, resources. Surrender perceived rights to God. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and He will exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6). Be quick to defer to others.

3. Accept inconvenience and disruption cheerfully. When plans get interrupted or you’re asked to serve in ways that cost time and energy, accept this as an opportunity to put others before self. “Don’t merely look out for your own personal interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4 NLT).

4. Look for unseen needs around you. Self-focus blinds us to signs of loneliness, anxiety, weariness, and burdens in those we interact with. Pray for eyes attuned to discern the quiet brokenness of people in your sphere. How can you lighten their load?

5. Share credit and celebrate teammates. Our culture promotes individual stardom. But the body of Christ functions best when each part works together in hidden ways. Redirect praise toward those who serve quietly. How can you encourage the growth and contributions of others?

6. Speak words that give life. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). When irritation rises within over minor offences, choose to redirect your speech toward empathy, patience, and gratitude. Begin by praying blessings over those who offend you. Watch selfish attitudes dissipate.

7. Tithe your time and assets. As a regular practice, give 10% or more of your time, abilities, and money toward needs around you. Generosity trains the heart to channel resources toward others rather than stockpiling for self. Step out in faith, trusting God to provide for you as you give.

None of these steps will flow naturally. But through small acts of obedience, we can gradually dismantle selfish habits and reorient our posture toward radical generosity. As Paul exhorted: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Drawing Strength from Christ

This process requires courage and perseverance. We will fall short, get discouraged, and forget to put on compassion. There will be times when the voice of Self seems overpowering, insisting its distorted version of fairness and justice.

But transformation comes gradually, through daily dependence on the Spirit to say yes to right actions. As we choose to serve, listen, forgive, and honor others in small moments, by God’s power the grip of selfishness weakens. It no longer defines us.

We can draw strength knowing Christ has secured the victory and our flaws are not the final word. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Together we reflect more of our Selfless Savior – who poured out His life that we might live abundantly.

By His grace, the righteous life we fail to attain on our own is counted ours through faith. As we look to the One who modeled perfect sacrifice, our hearts can’t help but grow more loving.

So let’s encourage one another forward, shedding the burdens and barriers of selfishness to experience His freedom. The joy-filled journey of learning to live beyond Self awaits. We need only take the next step.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.